How Much is Early Learning Care in Australia: Early Learning Costs, Prices, Fees and Rates

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    On the average wage, an Australian family typically spends close to A$6,000 out of pocket per year on child care, a new analysis from the Mitchell Institute shows. This is more than the average cost of sending a child to a private primary school.

    Unlike the school sector, families don't have the option to choose a low cost publicly delivered childcare service.

    Childcare costs in Australia are among the highest in the OECD, eating up around 27% of families' incomes. As a result, many families are being forced to choose affordability over quality.

    But research shows quality preschools can deliver $2 of returns to the economy for every $1 invested. Children who receive quality early childhood education and care are also up to eight months ahead in learning, with the benefit still evident in adolescence.

    In July 2018, the Australian Government made a huge change to the early childhood and child care system — the first of its kind in 40 years. Now, the primary way for the Government to assist families with their child care fees is through the Child Care Subsidy, which is a single, means-tested contribution. Depending on your financial and lifestyle circumstances, this subsidy can potentially pay up to 85% of your child care fees for up to 100 hours per fortnight.

    However, navigating the child care costs in Australia can feel a little confusing, so we've pulled together all of the essential information below to give you a helping hand. Due to the many moving parts, it's a great idea to become familiar with the various childcare fees first, along with your eligibility for the child care subsidy, before deciding on which childcare option to use. 

    As a senior corporate leader at one of Australia's big banks, Lina Gyle knows a thing or two about managing money.

    But she has not been able to find a way around the budget-busting costs of childcare for her son, Eddy.

    "The childcare cost is higher than my mortgage repayments," she said.

    "Significantly bigger, with interest rates so low."

    Without any family in Melbourne to help them, Lina said she and her husband faced out-of-pocket childcare expenses of more than $24,000 a year.

    "I'm definitely not having another one because we definitely couldn't afford another child in childcare," she said.

    "Some women don't go back to work for five or six years because they have two kids, and you just can't afford it."

    Fellow mum Maya Linden said her $15,000 a year bill to put her daughter Lily into childcare four days a week completely changed her mind about having more children.

    "It's a factor in us deciding only to have one child," she said.

    "We know the kind of upbringing that we want to give her, we know what the expenses are, and we don't feel we can provide the kind of upbringing we want with more than one child."

    How Much Does Child Care Cost?


    While a breakdown of the costs of every type of care in each state and territory is beyond the scope of this article, we have sourced some information from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), which will hopefully give you a little more information about what prices to expect as you look for care.

    Every three years, the ABS conducts a nationwide Child Care Survey that presents information about the use of and demand for child care for children aged 0-12 years.

    The last survey was completed in 2017, and the findings provide useful information on average child care costs across Australia.

    It is worth pointing out that the costs reported here are the net costs to parents after the Child Care Benefit and the Child Care Rebate were taken into account.

    The ABS survey showed that in 2017, more than 1.8 million children (49 per cent) aged up to 12 years usually attended some care, whether formal or informal. 

    As with previous survey years, long daycare was the most commonly used formal care, followed by before and after school care programs. Grandparents were the most popular type of informal care.

    For most children who usually attended formal care, the mean cost after subsidies was $110.50 per week and the mean number of hours attended was 16. 

    The Department of Education also produces a regular update of child care use and costs called the Early Childhood and Child Care in Summary. The last available report from the June quarter of 2017 shows the average hourly child care cost across all services was $8.90, and fees vary across service types from a low of $7.20 per hour for outside school hours care to a high of $10.25 per hour for occasional care. 

    It's difficult to pinpoint the average cost of childcare in Australia due to the many different service options, the varied hours per day, and the discrepancy in cost between locations.

    However, the table below summarises the median cost of child care services in Australia, based on the Early Childhood and Child Care Summary July 2018 Report. 

    It's split into different service types, with the average rate per hour multiplied by the average weekly hours, which is then divided by five days. Of course, this is only a rough average, as some families will use their weekly hours in maybe three or four days instead of equally across all five.

    Hourly Rate Cap

    Average Rate Per Hour

    Average Rate Per Day  

    Outside School Hours Care




    Family Day Care and In-Home Daycare




    Centre-Based Day Care




    Kindergarten and Preschool

    The recommended 15 hours are free



    Childcare Cost Per Day in Australia

    The above table shows that before and after school child care (outside school hours) has the lowest average cost per day at $16.20, due to fewer hours required (usually only 2 hours in each session).

    On the other end of the spectrum, centre-based care (or long daycare) has the highest average cost per day. At $54.90, this service offers longer hours and a structured program created by professional educators.

    How Much Does In-Home Daycare Cost?

    The In-Home Care (IHC) program is part of the new child care subsidy system. It's designed specifically for families with complex needs, and with the recent reform, it caters for 3,200 children across Australia. 

    In the recent Early Childhood and Child Care Summary report, in-home care is categorised with family daycare, which puts the average hourly fee at $8.95. It's not the best estimation as they're very different child care services, but the hourly rate cap shines a more accurate light on how much in-home care costs.

    Before & After School Care Cost and Fees

    Before and after school care is a supervised service with a playful nature for primary school-age children outside of school hours.

    As many parents have to work outside of standard school hours, this is an extremely helpful and convenient child care option. However, this type of care is often associated with the school itself, a community organisation or even a private business.

    As children have just finished a long day of school (or they're about to start), recreation activities are encouraged here, such as reading, sports, art or games.

    Before School Care Cost

    Typically, before school care runs from 6:30 am until 9:00 am. The cost will vary depending on how many hours you would like your child to attend, the area you live in, and the childcare provider you have chosen.

    In the Early Childhood and Child Care Summary July 2018 Report, before school care, after school care and vacation care are categorised as Outside School Hours Care. 

    "Services provide care for school-aged children before and after school during the school term. Some services also provide care on 'pupil free' days. Vacation Care is also included in this category. In addition, vacation Care services provide care for school children during the school holidays."

    Outside School, Hours Care's average hourly rate is $7.50, while the average time spent in care is 10.8 hours/week. Therefore, we're looking at a rough average of $16.20 a day.

    How Much is After School Care? 

    For after-school care, the hours are usually from 3:00 pm until 6:00 pm. Like before school care, multiple factors are considered when setting a price, but it is usually around $7.50/hour. Additional costs may be charged for late fees or membership requirements for both before and after school care. 

    Prestigious schools are often cheaper

    According to research by Victoria University (VU), for Australian parents earning the average income, childcare fees are higher than many private school fees, according to research by Victoria University (VU).

    "The cost of childcare for families in Australia is among the highest in the world," said report author Jen Jackson, the education policy lead at VU's Mitchell Institute.

    "And we've found that Australian families pay as much for childcare as they would send their child to a private primary school.

    Investing in parental workforce participation

    About half of the increase in Australia's investment in early childhood services can be explained by the increase in children attending them. Since the early 1990s, the number of children in childcare has increased five-fold. Our analysis shows since 2008, participation in childcare has increased by around 80%.

    Changing family structures have fuelled this rise in demand. In the 1980s, most two-parent families had only one adult in the paid workforce. Now, more than one in five Australian families with young children have both adults in full-time work.

    It's not feasible to say this is a private choice and that the family should therefore bear childcare costs. For many Australian families, living costs can only be met by both parents working and accessing childcare as cheaply as possible.

    The impact of childcare costs is greatest for Australia's most vulnerable children and families. This is because low-income families are likely to spend a much bigger proportion of their discretionary income on childcare than high-income families – meaningless is leftover for other family essentials.

    It's time to fund childcare like primary schools: report.

    The Mitchell Institute report calls for government funding of early childhood education centres — similar to that afforded to primary schools — to ensure universal access.


    It is a proposal supported by Rebecca Stiles, the Hillbank Community Children's Centre director in Melbourne.

    She is concerned about the government subsidies offered to big corporate centres that dominate the sector, particularly when demand is soaring.

    "Because, for them, it's more about making that money to line their pockets and get their big advertising budgets," she said.

    Investing in children

    Smarter investment in early childhood education and care focuses on the benefits for children's learning. This kind of investment ensures all children gain access to quality early childhood services, regardless of their parents' pay.

    In 2009, governments committed to 15 hours of preschool for children in the year before school, recognising this would yield strong public benefits in the long term.

    This investment logic is similar to schools: governments pay, children learn, and the economy and society benefit. Of course, parents can pay extra if they choose, but every child is guaranteed a quality education.

    Few people would question this logic for schools, but the Australian Government is still holding back from long-term funding of preschool. This instability creates inefficiencies. Many preschool staff are on short-term contracts, and families cannot plan their investment in their child's early learning.

    Other countries do this better. Australian families might look longingly to Sweden, which provides over 500 hours of free education and care for children aged three to five and low fees for younger children matched to families' income. Sweden is in the top five countries for working mums and top ten for economic competitiveness.

    A shift from private to public investment is possible even in early childhood systems more similar to Australia. For example, in Canada, a major review of early childhood funding concluded free preschool from age 2.5 was the fairest solution, above all other options.

    The review also found tax deductions (a solution proposed in Australia) favoured middle-income families but left low-income families behind. This is because they wouldn't earn enough tax credits to cover the costs of quality education and care.

    Whatever the solution, something has to change. As annual government investment in early childhood approaches $10 billion, and families still struggle under the burden of costs, the longstanding "barbecue stopper" of childcare costs needs to become an evidence-based debate about smarter investment.

    Which factors increase cost?

    The best way to determine the cost of child care in your area is to contact a few services and chat with them directly. Think about whether you would prefer to have everything provided for your child or whether you would prefer to send your child off each day with nappies and food. This decision alone will help you determine the best type of child care for your family and will directly affect the cost.

    When comparing costs, it is also important to consider peripheral expenses, such as the price of travelling to and from the child care service in terms of petrol, public transport and convenience. These factors can considerably affect the total price you end up paying for your child care.

    Here are some tips for what to consider when choosing the right centre for your child.
    1. Determine the type of childcare service you are looking for. ...
    2. Type of Education and Philosophy. ...
    3. Location of the childcare centre. ...
    4. Availability & Waiting List. ...
    5. Childcare Costs. ...
    6. Flexibility. ...
    7. Licencing and Registration.

    When choosing a childcare centre, you as the parent have the right to expect it will provide a safe, supportive place for your child's self-identity and awareness to grow. It's important that educators in your choice of centre value each child's individual interests and opinions and treat them with respect and love.

    A high-quality childcare center has a friendly and warm environment conducive to learning. Be sure to pick a daycare with clean and sanitary buildings and classrooms. Check their toys and learning materials to make sure they are safe and child-friendly.

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